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Abandoned pet cemetery was Canada’s first such resting place for animal companions

December 2020

In 1983, horror author Stephen King published a book called Pet Sematary, which was turned into a movie six years later. While the cemetery in this story has supernatural powers that results in a horrific outcome, there actually are some pet cemeteries out there.

Of the few that do exist, the first one in Canada was opened in King Township, north of Toronto, Ontario. Victor Blochin, a retired Major in the Russian Red Army in World War I, and his wife Anne, established the cemetery in a woodlot on their farm in 1933.

Blochin spent part of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, where he befriended a Scottish soldier and fellow prisoner named Angus Campbell. After the war, Blochin moved to Scotland with Campbell and worked as his gardener It was there that Campbell, who was a breeder, gifted Blochin a West Highland White Terrier, whom he named Snejka (Snowflake).

In the 1920s Blochin left Scotland for Canada, along with one of Snejka’s sons and a female Westie, and settled in King Township, near the Town of Aurora. He designed and built a stone house, which he named Silverdale Farm.

In 1927, Victor established Bencruachan Kennels, which would become of the the most respected breeding kennels amongst the dog breeding community, particularly the Westie community.

The first ever terrier group competition topped by a Canadian dog was one of Blochins Westie’s!

Blochins would go on to win so many awards for dogs coming from Bencuachan Kennels, that there is a trophy named for in his honour: the Victor Blochin Memorial Trophy.

The establishment of the Happy Woodland Cemetery when the original son of Snejka died in 1933, Blochins decided to bury him in a quiet corner of the farm.

The couple erected a stone memorial that read, “Our Dear Pets: they lived happy and died beloved – Anne Elizabeth and Victor Blochin, 1933.”

Their cemetery soon became a public burial grounds, with around 200 cats, dogs, rabbits, at least two horses, one a former RCMP horse, and a monkey named Peter, being laid to rest at Happy Woodland over the years.

The second horse buried at the cemetery is named Rose, and once owned by a World War I veteran, Norman Chapman, who died in 1920 from complications related to his war service. A stone with her name and an outline of a horse’s head marked her grave, but it seems to have since gone missing.

Blochin even sold caskets to bury pets in, and often hosted after-funeral wakes for the animal owners.

Some of the tombstones are basic and plain, but others bear carved images of the deceased animal, and still others are the kind of granite headstones that you would see in a human cemetery. One tombstone is a small cairn made of stones.

In addition to the breading business, Anne was also a well known author of short stories and articles, and was the founding editor of Chatelaine Magazine, a position she left when she married Victor Blochin in 1929.

One of the books that Anne wrote was “That Dog of Yours,” published in 1941; a book that dealt with the raising and care of dogs. The book also touched on some paranormal incidents that occurred on the property. She died in 1946.

Victor followed her in 1978, having sold the property and the kennel three years earlier. The new owners renamed the breading and adoption business Kennel Inn.

Kennel Inn closed around 2011 and the property has been abandoned ever since. The neglected cemetery, which had its last burial around 1975, was slowly being consumed by the forest and vegetation around it, seemingly forgotten by all but a select few.

A cloud of uncertainty hung over the cemetery for many years, due to the increasing development of the surrounding land. Due to its secluded location, many Aurora residents were unaware that the cemetery even existed.

However, efforts by the Town of Aurora, through their Aurora Museum & Archives department, to preserve the cemetery have paid off. It’s now owned by the town and there are plans in the works to build a trail system to allow public access, along with having it designated a national historic site.

Memorial Restorations, Inc., a well respected monument restoration company, along with an army of volunteers, have been working since 2017 to clean-up, survey and restore the historic cemetery. Some of the tombstones are faded and barely readable, and some of the flat stones have been covered up by years of soil and vegetation.

It should also be noted that the cemetery does contain the remains of one human. Florence Capstick, an animal lover who was a regular visitor to the kennel, requested that when she died, that her ashes be scattered over the grounds of the Happy Woodland Cemetery.

Sources: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/abandoned-pet-cemetery, https://memorialrestorations.com/aurora-pet-cemetery, www.ontarioabandonedplaces.com, http://www.newspapers-online.com/auroran/?p=20416, https://www.yorkregion.com/community-story/6504302-aurora-pet-cemetery-links-past-to-present-for-resident, Toronto Star, 12 June 1937.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/abandoned-pet-cemetery-was-canadas-first-such-resting-place-for-animal-companions/

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